Wanting to communicate a broad view of Morocco, I set out for the port town of Essaouira this morning. The two major options are by car (rental or taxi) and bus. The two bus lines are CTM and [email protected] I still haven't seen a CTM bus, but heard it was the cheaper of the options and wanted to avoid getting stuck on the "Chicken and Goat Bus". I found a petite taxi (car) at the Jemaa el Fna and arrived at the [email protected] terminal around 8:10, hoping to get on the first bus (8:30). However, the first one was fully reserved, so I got a seat on 9:00 bus and bought my return seat to avoid getting marooned in Essaouira overnight. Since I had about 30 minutes to kill and hadn't had breakfast, I grabbed a chocolate croissant and cappuccino at the terminal cafe. While this gave me something for my stomach, the true benefit was it afforded me a place to sit down away from the burgeoning crowd in front of the buses.
At 8:35 I went over to the Essaouira bus in preparation for the 8:45 board time. Almost immediately a dude with a clipboard showed up and started checking and marking tickets. I boarded the bus to find someone in my reserved seat on the very cramped bus. When I engaged this person, I found out this was actually the 8:30 bus. Like a salmon swimming upstream, I made my way off the bus and made sure the guy with the clipboard wouldn't give me any hassle boarding the 9:00 bus with a marked ticket. An American working in Ethiopia had also boarded the 8:30, so we stood there, discussing the need for a complete lack of expectation when traveling in Africa. He made a comment about us being on the "Comfort Plus" bus, which turned out to be the most comfortable bus I've ever ridden. It was a full-size tour bus with three seats abreast, which were well-spaced front-to-back, allowing a decent recline and even had leg-rests. I scored a single seat on the left side of the bus in both directions.
Including a 15-minute coffee and toilet stop, the bus arrived in Essaouira just shy of noon. Even before the doors opened, hustlers started showing up with offers to carry tourists' bags to their hotels. By this point, all semblance of patience (and courtesy) had gone out the window and I just pushed through the mob and headed for the entrance to the walled medina. I was starving and the street vendor food looked a little sketchy, covered in flies and/or bees, so I started scoping out cafes and restaurants, but the options were pretty thin. Since this is a fishing port, I figured there must be something along the water, so I pushed westward, through the crowded main street, lined with vendors' stalls and shops.
One of the Essaouira secondary streets.
The crowds thinned out and the streets narrowed and weaved as I continued toward the shore. Less of the harsh afternoon sun was reaching street level and there was a dampness in the air, along with the faint smell of the ocean.
On the south end of the seawall I found the Riad Mimouna. The hotel looks like it may have been built for Moroccan royalty. The host escorted me up to a covered roof-top terrace overlooking the ocean.
Hallway, just off of the lobby in the Riad Mimouna. View from my table at the Riad Mimouna.
As with most restaurants I have encountered in Morocco, Olives are served as a complementary appetizer. Relaxing in the shade, watching the waves, a gentle ocean breeze and snacking on olives...now that's how to spend an afternoon in Morocco!
The lamb was a cooked perfectly rare and was seasoned just right (as were the vegetables) and while I'm making any excuse possible to hang out on their terrace as long as possible, why not top off the meal with Creme Caramel? And how much as all this great food and off-the-chart atmosphere? ...about $15. I guess I've been living in Europe too long, because my point of reference for a meal of this quality would run about twice as much in Germany. Oh, the $.60, or so, I spent on a half liter of bottled water would have cost about $4 in Germany.
Rack of Lamb (tree ribs) with steamed vegetables and potato croquettes.
When I had reserved my seat on the return bus this morning, I had requested the last bus. What I got was the last Comfort Plus bus (17:00). This was disappointing, as the sun was starting to drop and was casting some nice shadows, but I didn't want to miss my ride.
In speaking with a British couple, there is a 30 dirham premium for the Comfort Plus bus. However, at 200 dirham ($25) round-trip for the three-hour ride, I didn't think it was a bad price. To put this in perspective, it costs 50 dirham ($6.25) for the 15-minute taxi ride from the Jemaa el Fna to the bus terminal, which is a bargain by both US and European standards. On the other hand, the guy working in Ethiopia told me he paid his hotel 15euro for his taxi to the terminal.
I am blogging this trip to build content and traffic for my website. Please visit my gallery to see my best images of Morocco. Feel free to comment.